Movie review : Coyote (2013)

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“Conformity is the key.
Put on the mask of a simple man and no one ever knows the difference.
Everyone is so concerned with how you see them that they never bother to see you.”

~ Coyote

Coyote is that creepy weird piece of lonesome nastiness that you never knew you were looking for in a film.
The independent production made big waves on the festival circuit last year, and it will finally be available on DVD this month, on December 16th.
I first heard it described as “a nightmarish psychological horror that blends Taxi Driver with Videodrome“, which is as accurate a description as any. However, first time writer/director Trevor Juenger and independent horror icon Bill Oberst Jr. have created a main character so desperately lonely that he makes Travis Bickle look like an upstanding socialite.

A non-linear assault on the senses, it seems that the whole purpose is to keep the audience on edge and break taboos, which they succeed in greatly. Essentially a window into the mind of a man slowly losing his sanity, the confusion and horror is expertly conveyed with grotesque imagery, bizarre double takes, and inventive use of sound effects.

As a film about loneliness and desperation should be, the story is very sparsely populated, and the focus is directly on Bill as he slowly descends into a surreal madness. Bill Oberst Jr. is no stranger to playing dark roles like this (If you haven’t seen Circus of the Dead yet, do so right away!), and he proves himself to be a treasured gift to the horror genre with another fearless performance.

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Right off the bat it is established that our protagonist is a strange sort, as he struggles over how to convey his happiness in a letter to his mother. In reality, he works a dreary job in a moving van, surrounded by darkness and negativity. The character seems to feed on this energy in a way, letting the evil around him slowly grow his own hidden darkness. He is also a struggling writer, who is plagued by vicious nightmares of being murdered in bed, leading him to believe in the mantra, “If I sleep, I will die.

As time passes in a hazy surreal way, Bill realizes he is changing, but also seems powerless (or unwilling) to stop the change. He knows that his current form is only the pupal stage, that he began as a worm, and that he is evolving “for no reason at all“. The story is simple and fragmented, weaving in and out of dreams and visions, switching between bursts of violence to serene scenes of beauty. This is exactly what I look for in horror films, the simple chance to get lost in someone else’s madness for a while, and forget about my own for the running time.

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Coyote is that rare intense film that you wont soon forget, a visually inventive and unflinching nightmare of madness and depravity. According to Bill Oberst Jr., Coyote is the same strange vision on film that it was on paper. It is available on DVD today December 16th 2014 from Wild Eye Releasing.
Recommended.




Stephen King is back with Revival!

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US author Stephen King is pictured at a

As a lifelong “Constant Reader” of the books of Stephen King, I am happy to report that his newest novel Revival hits all of those notes we have come to expect as fans of his writing. And in the end he smashes those notes hard, and we readers definitely feel the impact. Taken only with the promise from King himself that the new book is a “straight-ahead horror novel”, I just burned through this one in a few sittings and don’t expect to forget about it any time soon.

All the classic themes of King’s fiction are here : faith, tragedy, disillusion, addiction, curiosity, obsession and death, and we get right to it in a great opening set in the Autumn of 1962 in (you guessed it) a small town in Maine. Our narrator is a six year old boy playing with a birthday batch of green army men when we first meet him, and right away a shadow falls over young Jamie Morton. This shadow, which King refers to as “the fifth business” -the joker that pops in and out of your life at odd intervals over the years – is a young minister named Charles Jacobs.

Jamie quickly develops an easy friendship with the new preacher and the two become linked throughout their lives, for the better and the worse. Jacobs proves to be a great inspiration for the children who visit his Parrish, and his wife and young son integrate themselves into everyday life of the small New England town. As he gets to know the new Reverend, Jamie learns that Jacobs has a love and special understanding of electricity, and begins a series of experiments that will continue for the rest of their now-intertwined lives. It starts off harmless enough, as Jacobs shows young Jamie an experimental photoelectric cell that he built to create the illusion of a plastic Jesus walking on water. This makes clear the Reverend’s secret side, one that possibly believes more in something else than he does in the light of the Lord.

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The Morton family is large, and we see the events of the story through the first person account of Jamie, but the rest of the family is important in many ways. His brother Connie is a huge part of the transformation of Reverend Jacobs, as he loses the ability to talk in a wicked skiing accident. After some time as a frustrated mute, Jamie convinces Con to let the trusted Reverend try one of his experiments on him, which is a great success. It is, of course, a slippery slope and the reverend begins to lose his way, believing that electricity is more powerful than God. Then one day, a tragic accident takes Jacobs wife and son from him in a graphic and horrible way, and the way of god is lost to him. He gives a sermon as honest as it is blasphemous, shaking the faith of everyone in the church that day, and then vanishes.

After what comes to be known as “The Terrible Sermon”, life keeps right on going for every one else, including Jamie. In the best King tradition, we follow along as Jamie grows up, has his first love, and follows his own path through life. Although Jacobs is gone, his influence is present all through Jamie’s passionately-written formative years as he has an electric first experience with sex, discovers his talent at picking the guitar, and falls in love with hard drugs.

It is later, when Jamie finds himself at his lowest point – homeless, jobless, and strung out – that his old fifth business shows up again. After leaving the hokum of religion behind, the reverend has now become a different type of con-man, a carnival barker with some impressive electrical experiments that wows the crowd night after night. Of course it is all smoke and mirrors to obscure his true experiments with what he refers to as the “secret electricity”, and it becomes obvious to Jamie that his old friend and mentor is continuing down a frightening path. However, it is a path that Jamie is now bound to, especially after Jacobs “cures” him of his heroin addiction and nurses him back to health.

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Years pass again, and now we see life from the perspective of middle-aged Jamie, who has worked successfully as a music producer for many years, without so much as a thought to the drug that almost ended him years before. Tragedy comes and goes, and it all feels much like real life, and then the wild card rears his head again. This time Jacobs again embraces his Preacher persona, with added cynicism, and he is found traveling the countryside giving out miracle cures to the bumpkins who show up to sing and dance and speak in tongues. Many of these cures are genuine, and Jamie learns the hard way of their side-effects but is powerless to stop his old friend from continuing his experiments.

It all gets darker from there, as Jamie, now an old man in the present day, does some detective work and learns that the after effects of his old friend’s cures range from mild annoyances to screaming fits of horror, suicide and murder. Jamie proves to be a fascinating character, especially in these later chapters after we have grown old with him. He knows the difference between right and wrong, but he also knows that there is something else, a grey area that his old mentor has discovered – and he is spellbound with curiosity as well as loyalty.

At just over four hundred pages, Revival is relatively short for a King novel, and the conclusion comes at the reader with frightening speed. We as readers are meant to feel just as trapped as Jamie during the final moments, forced to stare into the abyss at last. It is no coincidence that King dedicates Revival to classic horror pioneers H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Arthur Machen. Although in recent interviews with the author, he claims to have chosen to believe in God, the bleak climax of the novel tells a frightening version of  truth and pulls no punches, giving us a nightmarish vision of an afterlife so horrible it brings about more questions than answers.

In the end, the novel poses one horrible new question, and paints an even more terrifying picture of the answer.
What if all religions, including atheism, have it wrong?

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Open Windows is clever, timely, and confusing.

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Open Windows, the new film from Timecrimes director Nacho Vigalondo is a groundbreaking and hypnotic journey through the nightmares of modern technology.
The film tells the twisted tale of Nick (Elijah Wood), a young geek with a fan blog who gets pulled deep into a convoluted plot by a mysterious voice on the other end of the internet. His website is a classy fan site for big time star Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey), who is attending a press conference for her newest sci-fi big budget adventure film. Nick has been contacted by her representatives and been told that he has won a dinner date with the young lady, which he learns she has abruptly cancelled. The voice on the other end of the line is “Chord”, who initially claims to be one of the producers working with the starlet, but leads Nick down a rabbit hole of strange and uncomfortable twists and turns. Before Nick knows it, he (and the audience) is sucked right into this strange sequence of events, and the pace is so frantic we never even have the chance to question what is going on.

While the concept can be considered to be a modern day take on Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the real gimmick here is that everything you see in the film is via a computer screen, so Nick’s laptop is of key importance. The screens and windows dance in and out of our focus, and really help the voyeuristic tone of the film, making the audience complicit with the progressively more nerve-wracking events.  Chord quickly reveals himself to be more enigmatic than we thought, as he orchestrates a convoluted series of events that involve torture, kidnapping and virtual extortion. Touching on a timely theme of young starlets being exploited by media outlets, this ambitious film has a lot to say, and in an entirely new format.

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According to the director, “Some years ago my producers asked me to come up with a movie in which social networks and the language of the Internet would feature heavily. I made a counter-proposal: taking the concept to its limit by writing a film that took place entirely on the desktop of a computer, pushing the envelope of the production to make it a really unique adventure.”

Elijah Wood is great in his part as the puppet being dragged along by the strings of a sinister maniac, and I love seeing the little hobbit take on strange roles like this at this time in his career. Nick is a sympathetic stalker, being forced into an uncomfortable situation by a much more nefarious puppeteer, but he tellingly doesn’t wrestle too hard with his conscience when he gets a chance to peek at the holy grail. When the stakes become considerably higher, however, he rises to the occasion to become her hero and joins forces with some amusing French hackers to save the day. Sort of…

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Nothing in this film is what it appears to be, and while the breakneck pace of the first two thirds drags the audience along for the ride, the final act kind of stops the film dead in its tracks. Some questionable technology combined with new characters (and one easily forgettable but vitally important one from the beginning) turn the climactic scenes into a jumbled, confusing mess.

The first time I watched it I found myself asking What the FUCK just happened?

Upon a second viewing, things became a little clearer toward the end, but I think it is safe to say that the director used a few cheats to get to the desired conclusion. As with Timecrimes, the science of the sci-fi is clearly not as important to the director as the fiction, but I just didn’t feel that it worked as well here. Overall, Open Windows is a fun and unique experience in a whole new style of film-making, and will not be easy to forget despite the somewhat unsatisfying wrap-up. The film is currently available On Demand, and will also start a limited theatrical run today November 7th, although to be honest I think watching this one on a laptop or mobile device makes the whole package more satisfying.




Fantasm – A documentary that will make you feel right at home.

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The new documentary Fantasm is a love letter to the horror community, specifically the huge groups of dedicated fans who frequent conventions all over the country.
Begun as a student film project, director and ardent horror fan Kyle Kutchta has assembled a dedicated and loving  look at the phenomenon of horror conventions and the people just like you and I who religiously attend them.

In an effort to understand his own fascination with the genre, the young director embarked on a journey to six horror conventions throughout the united states. Through interviews with actors, directors, horror experts and fellow fans at conventions, Kyle discovered that it’s not only the love of the genre that makes these gatherings so special, but it’s the sense of community.
Fantasm features insight from such notable names as Tom Atkins (Escape from New York), Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger), Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2), Richard Johnson (The Haunting) and more, alongside the dedicated fans who attend horror conventions.
Clocking in at just under an hour, the documentary is a quick and fascinating look at the culture of weirdos and horror nerds and our connection through the love of horror on film. In fact, the entire show seems to be more of an introduction to the scene meant for outsiders and naysayers. Many of the interviewees try very hard to defend their love of the genre and prove that horror folk are just like everyone else.  Obviously this could be a great help for any horror fans who have ever felt unjustly persecuted for their love of cinematic grue, as this film provides proof that young outsiders and misfits are being welcomed in and accepted to the fold.
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Aside from the fascinating conversations with the aforementioned horror luminaries in defense of our beloved gore, which would make it well worth a watch, the film proves to be somewhat of an eye-opener to older more jaded fans like myself. With a director who is barely in his twenties, he has an entirely different perspective on horror culture than I do. For example, early on in the film he describes how first seeing the remake of “Dawn Of The Dead” in 2006 led to his fascination and eventual passion for the dark side. In a way, this makes the case for remakes, which us older fans tend to write off without merit. According to this young man, the remake led him to the original Romero films, and further down the rabbit hole of classic films that many of us know and love. In fact, the Dawn remake is mentioned fondly several times by younger horror fans, and it is interesting to think of that film a different way, through the eyes of a new horror watcher. The fact that it ignited love for the genre and created a whole new generation of horror geeks is wonderful, and it is a key to the effectiveness of this documentary that it inspires people (even us old guys) to look at the genre in entirely different ways.
Overall, Fantasm is a quick and fun watch which makes the viewer feel right at home among friends, which is the obvious legacy of the community of horror fans who frequent these conventions. It is the next best thing to being there, and will be fun to pop in and watch during the off seasons. It also serves as a great introduction for new and future generations to the whole culture and experience of the convention scene. While at times it seemed to be defending horror just a bit too much for my taste, it is good evidence to have the next time you feel ostracized or left out of something because of your infatuation with fictional evils.

Fantasm will be officially released on DVD on November 11th 2014, and anyone who pre-orders the film before then can get it for a discounted price of $13, also signed by the director.
The DVD will include such special features as the original student film, extended interviews, bloopers, trailers, and a special “Dinner at the Kuchta’s” featurette.
Follow Fantasm on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure and get your very own copy right here!
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Three more days till… Halloween : Resurrection (2002)

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“I searched forever for a memorable quote to start this article with, but couldn’t find a single one in this horrible, pointless film.”

- Larry Darling Jr, author of this article.

Any constant readers of this site over the past three years will recognize and hopefully appreciate the fact that I rarely post negative reviews. The way I look at all of this is simple: I love horror movies, even the bad ones. In certain cases, I especially love the bad ones. As a blogger, I tend to subscribe to the “Promote what you love rather than bash what you hate” point of view, and there is generally something positive to be found in every film if you look closely enough. Sometimes just the simple fact that someone got off their ass and created something is enough to give me some measure of enjoyment.

All that being said, I fucking hate Halloween : Resurrection.

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If you have been following along at home, I have been counting down to Halloween 2014 by watching every single film and trying to build an interesting post about each one, thanks to the new Blu-ray collection released last month. And honestly, up to this point it has been a pretty enjoyable journey through the twisted, nonsensical, and often convoluted mythology the film-makers created over the years. The genuine chills of the original and clever execution of the first sequel ; the randomness of Part 3 ; the introduction of Danielle Harris as Jamie in part 4 and 5 ; even the critical overload of oddball ideas that made up part 6, each of these installments brought something interesting to the table. Culminating with the cathartic 20th anniversary of the original with H20, which brought the story of Laurie Strode vs. her murderous brother to a satisfying conclusion for fans of the series.

Is there a more fitting end to the decades-long saga than Laurie finally putting Michael Myers down once and for all, as we fade to black along with the desperate crooning of that guy from Creed? Well, possibly a better choice of song, but I digress…

After H20 hit big at the box office, work started immediately on the next film in the series, which was then referred to as Halloween : Homecoming. Continuing the film-making by committee way of doing things that had haunted the franchise for years, there were of course many disputes on the direction the series should take, especially after being ended so definitively in the last film. The Weinsteins suggested a completely new direction for the series, similar to the spectacular failure of part 3, but long time producer Moustapha Akkad would have none of that nonsense. Online polls and test screenings influenced this film heavily, as public opinion seemed of much greater importance than creativity. The script went through several writers and two directors were attached and dropped due to creative differences, before they finally settled on Halloween 2 director Rick Rosenthal, who should be ashamed of himself.

All of these spoons stirring the cauldron, and the best that they could come up with was this?

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The film begins with what can only be described as a giant slap in the face to everything that came before it. We catch up with Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis filling out her contractual obligation of a cameo in the sequel), now catatonic in some low-level asylum. We quickly learn from two nurses during an expository walk down the hallway, that Laurie lost her mind after finding out that the man she decapitated during the emotional climax of the previous film was not Michael after all. He was an innocent security guard, and Michael had actually crushed the poor father of three’s larynx and switched costumes with him, playing the ultimate trick on everyone. Yeah.

So, essentially in the opening scenes of the new film, the idea is to piss all over everything that came before and insult the fan base that has been along for the ride for all these years. Whoever came up with that one deserves an award for being a huge asshole.

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Within the first ten minutes, Michael shows up at the asylum and hacks his way through a few bumbling guards, chasing Laurie to the roof of the building. Little does he know she has cleverly assembled an Ewok-level trap which he steps right into for some fucking reason! She pushes a button and has him dangling in the air by one roped foot, but hesitates, and he turns the tables and stabs her and she falls to her death after a sisterly smooch on the lips.

To hear the people responsible for this travesty call it a satisfying conclusion to the story of Laurie Strode is just plain offensive. This is not satisfying in any way, rather incredibly lame, disappointing, and downright unforgivable. You know what was a satisfying conclusion to her story? The ending of H20, that’s what! Okay, let me take a breath.

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While it is tempting to just turn the damn thing off right there, it would be a shame to miss the one good performance in the whole movie. The kid in the dorm room who bursts in to warn the new batch of victims that they are, well, victims all the while caressing their panties on a drying rack. He is the best thing about the whole movie. What the Cabin In The Woods crew would refer to as “The Harbinger”, this kid eats the scenery alive in his few seconds on screen, and leaves the rest of the actors in the film to try and catch up to his incredible performance.

Considering that after the appearance of The Harbinger there are still about 80 minutes of film to fill up, we get a bunch of half-baked ideas thrown into a blender with a cast of one-dimensional characters all tossed sloppily into a ridiculous and technologically-naive scenario.

Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks show up for some fucking reason (well, the honest reason is that the producers learned that the Halloween films tested well with African-American audiences thanks to LL Cool J, and rushed to populate this sequel with more brown faces) as producers of some stupid show with an even more ridiculous name — Dangertainment. Seriously.

They assemble a fresh-faced cast of hot-at-the-time young stars (because that was what made H20 successful, right?) and fit them all with cameras in  the goal of producing the biggest new thing in the “internet universe”, whatever that is. These one-dimensional future victims are brought to the childhood home of Michael Myers, in order to broadcast the scary night to the whole world through the grossly misunderstood 2002 world wide web.

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I don’t even know if the characters have names, other than Bitch, Slut, Black Guy, Dorky Guy, Smart Redhead, and Edgy Leather Jacket Guy. The dialogue is stiff, forced and unconvincing, and sounds like what old guys think teenagers sound like. The characters are vacant and uninteresting. At one point Slut (or Bitch I can’t remember) asks Black Guy if all he ever thinks about is food. He might as well just answer, “Yes, because that is the only characteristic that they wrote for me.”

Oh yeah, there is also a subplot concerning the geeky kid who has an online crush with one of the victims, and corresponds with her using some giant primitive internet text messaging device. Seriously, what the fuck is that thing supposed to be?

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Anyway, unbeknownst to any of these moronic caricatures, Michael has returned to his home. Apparently he has given up on his life-long goal of ending his bloodline (which would have logically led to him stalking Laurie’s still-living son) and only wants to come home, only to find it populated with nubile young victims. Could they make it any easier for him?

As expected, he takes them out one by one in a style that is meant to recall the first film but is just plain boring as filmed, seen through POV camera angles and grainy footage on security screens. Michael meets his match, however, when he comes across the one and only Busta Rhymes, who then proceeds to spin kick Michael in the face (while making Bruce Lee style noises) and ultimately electrocutes him right in the balls.

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Yup, Michael Myers got taken out once and for all by a loud-mouthed rapper, who even proceeds to insult the legendary killer after his death. Which, of course, is followed by a lame jump scare attempt in the morgue which lets us know that he is still alive…zzzz

Certainly the worst entry in the whole series, and it can even be blamed for the franchise becoming ripe for a complete overhaul, which then leads us to Rob Zombie’s remakes, only serving as another reason to hate this movie. A pointless, ignorant and offensive entry to the series, this one will be collecting dust on my shelf while the originals will certainly come out again and again.

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As for the special features, there is a lot to slog through, but most of them consist of on-set interviews, in which the actors and crew are forced to speak politely about the piece of garbage they knew they were unleashing on the world. A few alternate (but just as bad) endings and deleted scenes round out the bonus material, along with featurettes talking about how innovative the head cameras were and blah blah blah.



Four more days till… Halloween : H20 (1998)

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Laurie Strode: My brother killed my sister.

Will Brennan: How did he do that?

Laurie Strode: With a really big, sharp kitchen knife.

After almost 20 years of trying to escape her fate as the ultimate scream queen, at long last Jamie Lee Curtis decided to return to the role that made her famous. Setting aside her well-known distaste for the genre that had made her, she zealously came onboard to this sequel, hoping for a full reunion including original director John Carpenter.
Although for years Carpenter had been absent from the series as well, he agreed to return to the director’s chair for a nominal fee of $10 million. An exorbitant amount in the eyes of producer Moustapha Akkad, despite the fact that Carpenter’s original had grossed over $55 million on a budget of $300,000 back in 1978. In 1998, however, Carpenter remained adamant that he deserved to earn from his creation one way or the other and stood his ground.

That said, the director they finally brought on for the film was Steve Miner, a veteran of the early Friday the 13th films, who had recently worked with Jamie Lee Curtis on Forever Young. A script that abandoned all of the convoluted elements from the previous sequels was written by Robert Zappia, and was later polished by the ubiquitous-at-the-time Kevin Williamson. Considered a direct sequel to the events of Halloween II, it was meant to return the series to it’s roots as the suspenseful creation it had once been.The film was released on August 7th,1998 boasting the biggest budget yet in the history of the franchise.

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While it seems very odd to just abandon the entire notion of everything Danielle Harris’ character of Jamie had gone through in the intervening years, the film quickly acknowledges that Laurie did indeed fake her death in a car crash before establishing a whole new life and continuity for the character. When we first see Laurie Strode all these years later, she is a tightly wound headmistress at an all-girls school, suffering from severe nightmares and barely keeping her functioning alcoholism under control.

Despite the fact that the film-makers all claim to have the intentions of returning the film to it’s humble beginnings, the script is one that tries too hard to be clever. The omnipresent in-jokes which populate the film, combined with distracting stunt-casting threatens to overwhelm the carefully built undercurrent of tension. The film is mostly successful, and ultimately much more satisfying than any of the previous sequels, if only for the delight the audience gets from returning to one of modern horror’s most beloved characters.

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The connection to the original 1978 film is immediately established in the opening scenes of the film, as nurse Marion from Halloween 1 and 2 finds her office ransacked and robbed. The file on Laurie Strode has gone missing, and young neighbor Joseph Gordon Levitt gets an ice skate to the forehead for his efforts to help, while Michael makes a bee-line for his sister’s new home in Northern California. The opening credits roll with a haunting re-recording of Dr. Loomis’ chilling speech from the original, and all of this helps to make the audience feel that we are in familiar territory.

Laurie has a comfortable albeit jittery life at the school under the name Keri Tate, including a teenaged son and George Clooney-lookalike boyfriend. The aforementioned stunt-casting rears it’s head here for both better and worse. The good is in the form of Janet Leigh, Curtis’s mother and veteran of Hitchcock’s Psycho, as Laurie’s secretary still driving the classic car from her iconic appearance at the Bates Motel all those years ago. It is a great nod to the things that came before. Where the casting goes horribly wrong is rapper L L Cool J as the security guard of the school, with aspirations to become a romance novelist. His scenes and performance are hokey and distracting.

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The film as a whole is without a doubt a product of it’s time. The slasher and franchise films were seemingly dead, and the Scream series (also written by Williamson) had debuted with a self-referential splash just two years before, changing the face of contemporary horror. So, obviously, more “homages” and references to the past populate the film, but it rarely distracts from the meat of the story, which is pretty lean and mean.

Although H20 does take it’s time getting to the finale that audiences had been clamoring to see for years, the slow and steady pace is in fact more reminiscent to the first film than any of the previous sequels ever came. It is also a bold move to change the setting completely from the streets of Haddonfield to a wide open and vacant boarding school, lending itself to some new ways to thrill the audience.

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When Laurie comes face to face with her persistent brother at last, it is a showdown that works to great effect. When Laurie finally decides to stop running and go on the offensive, calling out for Michael while brandishing a fire axe, it is a rewarding sequence for fans of the films, a pay off twenty years in the making. The fight between them is decidedly epic, and leads to a touching moment between the disparate siblings a moment before she removes his head with a satisfying swing of her fire axe and fades into the credits with a ridiculously out of place Creed song.

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Definitively ending the saga of Laurie vs. Michael which had begun two decades before, H20 was the most satisfying entry since the first one, and should have ended the series once and for all, with class and a soulful 90’s power ballad. But no, even decapitation couldn’t keep Michael down, as we will learn tomorrow when we take a look at the single most insulting film in the whole series, Halloween : Resurrection.

This new disc in the complete Blu-ray collection includes a brand new commentary with director Steve Miner and Jamie Lee Curtis, along with an all-new featurette, The Making of Halloween H20. Also included are some vintage interviews, the original trailer, and an interesting collection of scenes using the original, largely rejected score by John Ottman, which interestingly change the tone of the film quite a bit.



Five more days till… Halloween : The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

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“When Michael Myers was six years old, he stabbed his sister to death. He was locked up for years in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, but he escaped. Soon after, Halloween became another word for mayhem! One by one, he killed his entire family, until his nine-year-old niece, Jamie Lloyd, was the only one left alive. Six years ago – Halloween night – Michael and Jamie vanished. Most people believed them dead but I believe someone hid them away. Someone who keeps Michael, protects him… tries to control him. If there’s one thing I know, you can’t control evil. You can lock it up, burn it, and bury it, and pray that it dies, but it never will. It just… rests awhile. You can lock your doors, and say your prayers, but the evil is out there… waiting. And maybe, just maybe… it’s closer than you think!”

- Paul Rudd as Tommy Doyle, Halloween 6

The sixth film in the Halloween series took its sweet time in development, coming almost six years after the fifth film debuted as the lowest-grossing entry in the franchise history. Behind the scenes, however, there were many interested parties attempting to get another sequel off the ground. Legal squabbles over the rights to the film were delaying production, as Moustapha Akkad had somehow let the rights to his life’s work slip, and Miramax bigwigs the Weinstein brothers had slipped in for a piece of the Michael Myers pie. While all of these legal rumblings were taking their sweet time to get worked out, several different writers and directors made pitches for the direction of the next Halloween film, intriguingly including Quentin Tarantino (!) in 1994.
Ultimately, young aspiring screenwriter Daniel Farrands won the opportunity to write the script based on an extensively-researched treatment he put together on his own as a fan. A dream come true for a fan-boy, Farrands seemed to know more about the mythology and seemingly random plot points from previous entries in the series than the producers did and set about attempting to tie it all together with a big satisfying explanation for the many mysteries behind the pale faced stalker.

The sixth film begins abruptly with a replacement actress as the character of Jamie (despite the fact that Danielle Harris wanted to reprise her role so badly that she became legally emancipated at the age of 17 for that sole reason), now aged 15 and giving birth to a child under some adverse conditions. It is revealed (explicitly in the new cut) that the baby is the product of incest with her uncle, and Uncle Mike seems intent on finding the child. And we all know how Michael gets when he sets his mind to something…

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Meanwhile, an elderly Donald Pleasence returns once again for the final time as Sam Loomis, and comes out of retirement after randomly hearing Jamie on the radio trying to warn the citizens of Haddonfield of her family’s return to town. There are a new family of Strodes, distantly connected to the adoptive parents of the original’s Laurie, and even the debut of Paul Rudd as a now grown up Tommy Doyle, the kid Laurie was babysitting that fateful first time that he came home. While Farrand’s tireless research and detailed connections to the past films are certainly respectable, after a while the film just feels bloated and bogged down with inconsequential references that do nothing to advance the story.

We get something for everyone, I suppose. A new group of disposable teens; a family with the sole purpose of gory deaths; a random radio shock jock; Paul Rudd lugging a baby everywhere he goes; a black-robed cult; a strangely placid (and un-scarred) Dr. Loomis — and all of these characters are forever tied to one pale-masked weirdo lurking in the shadows.

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Eventually it is revealed that Michael has essentially been controlled by a cult of Druids for all of these years, suffering under “The Curse of the Thorn”. The symbol of the Thorn was first seen in Part 5, as an unexplained tattoo on the wrist of Michael and his mysterious benefactor in black. In this film it has an explanation : Thorn is an ancient Druid symbol that represented a demon that spread sickness and caused destruction. To prevent this, one child from each tribe was chosen to bear the curse of Thorn to offer a blood sacrifice of its next of kin on the night of Samhain. When the corresponding Thorn constellation appears, Michael appears. The curse explains why Michael is out to kill his family and also accounts for his superhuman resurrection abilities.

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One last thing that always bothered me about this film is the inconsistent movements of Michael Myers, who was played by several different gentlemen this time around. There is a specific scene late in the film where, while not exactly running, Michael is pursuing one of his victims at a rapid pace, something we have never seen him do before. “The Shape” is best remembered for his professional lurking, and slow measured pace while he confidently stalks his victims. As a character that never speaks, who audiences have grown to recognize for years, the decision to have Michael suddenly speed-walking after his victims is laughable and appallingly inappropriate.

Of course, there is no one to definitively blame for the botched handling of this sequel, as the film had two directors, numerous on-set rewrites, re-shoots that took place months later under dodgy supervision, and as many as a dozen potential endings. A classic case of two many cooks in the kitchen, the uneven result is nevertheless a unique and ambitious entry into the series, especially if you look at parts 4, 5 and 6 as one complete story. It is impossible to point fingers in one direction, and Farrands even coined the subtitle “The Curse of Michael Myers” as a joke in reference to the troubled production itself. Ultimately though, in the sequels that followed, ALL of this storyline is dropped and never even mentioned again!

The inclusion in this new set of the long-rumored “Producer’s Cut” was one of the most interesting additions, making this one a must buy for me. After years of poor quality bootlegged versions of the film floating around the internet, we finally get treated to what is said to be a closer version of the story to the script than what audiences ultimately got in 1995. While the original ending is slightly more satisfying than the theatrical ending, by the final scenes of the film it has all become pretty complicated and frankly too silly to care all that much.

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Overall, part 6 of the Myers saga is an ambitious but ultimately very flawed addition to the legacy of “evil on two legs”. While it is nice to see old plot threads followed up on and forgotten characters return, the complicated over-explanation of Michael and his motivations gets taken to a ridiculous degree in this sequel. In either version, the film ends up effectively destroying the mystery and enigma that originally was Michael Myers, and revealing him to be little more than a dog on a leash all these years. I have said it before and will say it again, it is the unknown which is scary. Audiences think they want all the answers, but they really do not. The horror of the original comes from the inexplicable lack of motivation, not from a cult of elderly weirdos in silk coats with high collars controlling the actions of evil.

Although the previous two films in this new set came with some pretty skimpy special features, this disc is crammed full of fascinating bonus items. As mentioned above, both the theatrical and the producer’s cuts are featured here, along with several interviews with various cast and crew and an audio commentary from lucky writer Farrands. Everyone seems to recall the troubled production differently, and while they generally acknowledge the production’s problems they tend to look back upon the film fondly and respectfully. That is, with the exception of Danielle Harris, who in an incredibly candid interview tells her side of the story of her exclusion from the film, and her dissatisfaction with her treatment. Also of interest are some very gory deleted scenes not found in either official cut of the film, and a nice tribute to the late Donald Pleasence, who passed away at the age of 75 during filming.
Both cuts of the film are dedicated to the memory of the legendary actor.

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Six more days till… Halloween 5 : The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

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“I prayed that he would burn in hell. But in my heart, I knew that hell would not have him”

- Doctor Sam Loomis

According to long time Halloween producer Moustapha Akkad, “Drunk off the success of Halloween 4, we began production on Halloween 5.” And that drunkenness shows itself almost immediately after this haphazard sequel begins, considering they even forgot to put the subtitle “Revenge of Michael Myers” in the opening credits of the film.
Rushed to production after Michael’s return hit big at the box office, part 5 lurched into theaters just one year after the previous film. After a quick recap of the ending of part 4 that boldly changes things that were key to the previous plot, we see Michael floating down some river rapids and arriving at the shack of an old hermit. Going against all the priorities of most recluses, the old man takes him in and nurses him to health for a whole year before getting brutally murdered for his troubles.

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We catch up with Michael’s niece Jamie as she convulses and cries at a children’s hospital, and find out that the shocking ending from the previous film has been altered to fit the new direction of the story as well. Both of these plot points feel like cheats in a way, but by this point the series had already proved to be increasingly forgetful of it’s past, so most audiences just rolled with it.
Donald Pleasence is back again as Loomis, looking weary and old but still spry enough to pop up with a cryptic warning or two whenever trouble is near. Also returning from the previous installment is Ellie Cornell as Rachel, although she gets stabbed in the chest with a pair of scissors early on and oddly no one even mentions her again.
Instead the rest of the film plays out with Rachel’s friend Tina as the main focus. It is an abrupt shift, and Tina has much less charisma than Rachel or Laurie or frankly any of the “final girls” from the glut of horror films at the time. Tina is one of those characters where  the audience ends up just waiting around to see how she is going to die.

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Admittedly rushed into production before a script was even finished, this attempt to throw as many ideas at the film as possible leads to some even more baffling twists and turns. A mysterious man in black appears, and lurks through the film as the half-formed idea that he is.
Jamie is inexplicably mute for the first half of the film, and rather than become like her uncle (as suggested by the awesome ending of the previous film) she has somehow developed a psychic connection with the killer and can predict his next strikes.
This leads the more-desperate-than-ever Dr. Loomis to plan a trap for his prey, with the little girl as bait. They lead Michael back to his old home and snare him in chains, and Loomis proceeds to shoot him with a tranquilizer gun and bash his head in with a wooden plank. He is taken off to a high security prison where it is  promised he would never leave again.
In a clear afterthought ending, the mysterious man in black shows up at the prison and massacres the entire police force, and ends the film with the clear notion that Michael Myers is still on the loose.

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It is tempting to criticize this sequel as lazy, but French director Dominique Othenin-Girard manages to pull off some memorable sequences in spite of the patchwork script. The early scenes where Michael is stalking in broad daylight are eerie and reminiscent of the classic original. Some of the kills are inspired, and the laundry chute scene was something new at least. The gore effects are great and were created by a very new studio called KNB, which would go on to become a leading name in special effects these days, and constantly had to be trimmed and toned down for the film to avoid the dreaded X rating.
The addition of the comic relief cops, however, should have been left on the cutting floor. And some of the tedious and jumbled plot points unnecessarily complicate the storyline, making it feel like it takes much longer to get to the climax of the film than it actually does.

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Overall, Halloween 5 has gone down in history as one of the weakest entries, but after slogging through some of the more recent releases, part 5 still holds up as an interesting and stylish flick at times. It adds some mysterious elements that were picked up later, while dropping some intriguing plot threads from the previous films. The thing is, it is never scary at all, and the oddball plot threads give the film a strangely inconsistent tone, where the audience is mostly left in the dark with no one really to root for or give a shit about.

This edition of the release included in the new box set looks great on Blu-ray, but is another disc sparse on special features. It includes only audio commentaries with the director and a few of the stars, and one on-set featurette.



Seven more days till… Halloween 4 : The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

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“Apocalypse, End of the World, Armageddon. It’s always got a face and a name. I’ve been huntin’ the bastard for 30 years, give or take. Come close a time or two. Too damn close! You can’t kill damnation, Mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”

- Jack Sayer, while sharing a drink with Sam Loomis.

After the bold box office failure that was Halloween III : Season of the Witch, the producers of the series scrambled to get their golden goose back on track. While the idea of a Myers-less Halloween had seemed like a brave idea, the films’ financial and critical disappointment was a hard pill to swallow.
One thing was for sure : audiences wanted more Michael Myers!

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Rushed to release to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the now-classic original, Halloween 4 continued the trend of many behind the scenes voices guiding the direction of the films. John Carpenter and Debra Hill were initially brought on to return the film to its roots, with Carpenter as writer/director and Hill once again as producer. Carpenter teamed up with horror author Dennis Etchison to pen a script, and the wheels were in motion for Michael’s murderous return to his hometown.

According to Etchison, the story would have followed a more “supernatural” storyline, which seems in line with Carpenter’s original plans for the series. In an interview, Etchison says, “Halloween was banned in Haddonfield and I think that the basic idea was that if you tried to suppress something, it would only rear its head more strongly. By the very attempt of trying to erase the memory of Michael Myers, the teenagers were going to ironically bring him back into existence.”

Making a name for himself under the psuedonym Jack Martin, Etchison had already penned the novelizations for Halloween 2 and 3.  Teaming with Carpenter for a new vision of The Shape seemed to be an excellent idea, but something went very wrong behind the scenes. The producers quickly rejected the script for being “too cerebral”, and this rejection led to Carpenter and Hill leaving the project (and ultimately the series), selling their interest in Halloween for good.

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With producer Moustapha Akkad finally taking ownership of the rights and complete control over the direction of the series, he set about constructing his ideal sequel, bringing in director Dwight H Little and screenwriter Alan B. McElroy. With a writer’s strike looming, the script was completed in just eleven days, and ultimately gave us what Akkad refers to as “the most successful” of the Halloween films.

While it might have been the most successful financially, the film itself is not without it’s problems. For one thing, scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis is nowhere to be seen (other than a few keepsakes and photos), and the focus is suddenly shifted to her orphaned daughter when we learn that Laurie died in a tragic car accident years before.

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Her daughter Jamie Lloyd, played by fresh-faced future scream queen Danielle Harris, is living with an adopted family, blissfully unaware of her murderous uncle. In an exposition-heavy opening scene, we see Michael Myers making his move for freedom during an ill-advised patient transfer in the middle of a rainy night on the eve of Halloween.

Donald Pleasence is back in pursuit, with some minor burn scars from being exploded way back in part 2, more frantic than ever as he makes his way back to Haddonfield. Loomis knows that Michael is “evil on two legs”, and goes above and beyond the call of duty to stop him.

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The problem is that everything feels so rushed and contrived, and we as an audience are asked to just accept some odd connections and motivations. The family connections never sat well with me in the first place, as I always preferred the original version of Myers as an unstoppable unexplainable killing machine. The afterthought addition first introduced in part 2 connecting Laurie and Michael always seemed forced to begin with, and the rushed explanation of Laurie’s death in this sequel are jarring and honestly kind of offensive. So, we are supposed to believe that our sweet “final girl” immediately got knocked up after getting out of the hospital, then died unceremoniously in a random car accident?

But, if you can let all of that go, there are some fun thrills and kills to be had in this sequel, as Michael rampages his way back home, and a group of hicks, teenagers and cops team up with ol’ Doc Loomis to fight him off. The late 80s teenager characters are charming and it is fun to watch them get murdered. Danielle Harris is great as little Jamie, and Pleasence rants and raves with the best of them. The climactic scenes are fantastic, as Jamie and her adopted sister scramble to escape Michael on a rooftop, then lead him to his dramatic death, shot to bits by rednecks and lost down a mine shaft.
The final scenes are also excellent and one of the only unique ideas in the whole film, as somehow Michael transfers his evil to his niece, and we see her murder her adoptive mother with a pair of scissors in a nice first person homage to the original. Also, Loomis’ reaction here is priceless, as he instantly draws his gun and breaks down with frustration just before the credits roll.
It is unfortunate that this story thread was unceremoniously abandoned in the next film, as it could have made for an interesting new take on the mythology.

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Overall, Halloween 4 is a fun watch with a really good cast. While the tone is inconsistent at times and some shots are jarringly strange (how did no one notice the Myers mask had blonde hair in that school scene?), it definitely gives those who were clamoring for more Michael after part 3 what they wanted. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or do anything revolutionary, but is a solid slasher sequel that cemented Michael Myers as a true icon of modern horror.

This new edition collected in the box set unfortunately contains no special features, and has a strange audio sync issue about halfway through the film. Anchor Bay has offered up replacement discs to those who bought the set early and have since promised the discs will be corrected.
Although this disc is the sparsest, not even offering any feature commentaries, the new set does come with a bonus disc which contains two documentaries about the making of the fourth film. (FYI the bonus disc is packaged with Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2, so purists might not even be aware where to find it!)



Eight more days till… Halloween III : Season of the Witch (1982)

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“It’s time. It’s time. Time for the big giveaway. Halloween has come. All you lucky kids with Silver Shamrock masks, gather ’round your TV set, put on your masks and watch. All witches, all skeletons, all Jack-O-Lanterns, gather ’round and watch. Watch the magic pumpkin. Watch…”

- Commercial announcer, Halloween III

Categorized as either a huge failure or a bold experiment, depending on individual points of view, the second sequel in the Halloween franchise quickly followed just a year after part 2.
For all intents and purposes, Michael Myers was dead for good, his eyes shot out and his body burned to death along with Dr. Loomis in the finale of the second film.
The filmmakers were done with Myers as well, and this sequel proposed an ambitious new plan to make the “Halloween franchise” into a yearly anthology series of films focusing on a new storyline involving the holiday and new characters in each incarnation.
In fact, John Carpenter and Debra Hill are credited only as producers this time around, although their fingerprints and ideas are all over the finished film. Director Tommy Lee Wallace credits Hill with the original idea of “pod people”, even though he is solely credited as the writer of the film. In truth, Wallace was merely one of many who had his hand in this script, beginning with reknowned science fiction novelist Nigel Kneale. After the producers rejected Kneale’s script for unspecified reasons, Carpenter and Hill jumped in, and Wallace did a final polish before taking on the reigns of director.

Of course the biggest black mark against Halloween 3 is that our favorite masked madman Michael Myers is nowhere to be seen (unless you count the cameo he makes on the TV screen in the bar, meta before meta was cool). But, as the creators contended, Myers was dead, his story was told, and the time had come to move on to something fresh and different. If Carpenter had gotten his way, every year would have brought us a new Halloween-centric film with a new plot and new characters, and we would be celebrating over thirty years of innovative film-making right now.
But sadly, it was not to be.
Halloween 3 was a huge disappointment to fans of Michael Myers, and they were in the vocal majority at the time of the release, ultimately killing this experimental film in its opening weekend.

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Halloween 3 starts off a week before the titular holiday, where after an awe-inspiring (for the early 80s) digitized pumpkin shows off the credits, we witness the horrible untimely death of shop owner Harry Grimbridge. Grimbridge mutters “They’re going to kill us all” while clutching a children’s Halloween mask as he is being admitted to the hospital, and later is murdered in his hospital bed by a mysterious man.

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His doctor Daniel Challis (played with manly gusto by Tom Atkins) is drawn into the mysterious death, partly due to the arrival of the dead man’s attractive young daughter, Ellie (cutie Stacey Nelkin). The pair’s investigation leads them to a small company village in northern California called Santa Mira (named after the town in Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and they start to realize something big is going down right in time for the horrific holiday.

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A sci-fi throwback with a cruel streak a mile long, it is easy to see why audiences didn’t immediately connect with this material, especially when they were expecting a “knife movie” and got a weird little “pod movie”. As the mystery is revealed slowly and deliberately, the bad guy (played with relish by Dan O’Herlihy) lays out his sinister plan for world domination via party masks in long monologues like an overconfident Bond villain.

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The bleak ending is unique for its time, and for any film really. Although in a later interview, star Tom Atkins says that he thinks his character finally accomplished his mission and stopped the insidious commercial from infecting the minds of masked children everywhere. This overly hopeful outlook is not the way most audiences see it however, as the ambiguous ending suggests that the bad guys actually won and turned the heads of all the children of the world into mushy nests of insects and snakes.

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As always, when looking back at these older films, it is important to keep in mind the huge changes in the world over the intervening thirty years or so. At the time, all of the major horror franchises that we now consider classics were just in the beginning stages. Satanic panics and rumors of teenage cult memberships were considered realistic threats to society. Halloween, the holiday, was at its peak in popularity and trick-or-treaters were everywhere, despite the underlying strangeness of the customs. Technology was new and scary. All of these elements make their way into the film, and work in varying degrees then and now.

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The Silver Shamrock theme song deserves mention here, as it finds a way to burrow into the viewers head like the best of ear-worms, and lends credence to the mind control/subliminal message plot that is in motion. Set to the tune of the handily public domain song “London Bridge is Falling Down”, it takes only the briefest snatch of the song to take hold somewhere deep in the pysche of the viewer, and does not fail to make the viewers uncomfortable.

One of the coolest additions to this release is the documentary Stand Alone, featuring recent interviews with earnest director Tommy Lee Wallace. After over thirty years of criticism and being forced to defend his film, it is nice to see the cult following it developed and Wallace to finally get his props for some unbelievably bold film-making.

Ultimately, Halloween 3 inhabits a strange kind of bizarro place in the canon of the series. The red-headed stepchild of the series, abused for years, that finally reveals itself to be better and more useful than anyone ever realized. If only the minds of horror fans in the early 80s had been open to new and unique concepts, we would have been spared years of repetitive sequels in favor of something new and different to look forward to each year.
More on that tomorrow, but in the meantime…

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